We drove up the snowy, winding road, toward the cozy A-frame cabin.
‘Charlie will meet us there,’ Lori thought, as she steered the SUV into a portal entrance between two mountain peaks just in time to see the rain from the brewing storm begin to crystallize and form snowflakes. She watched the snowflakes fall and settle atop her windshield. Soon after, more flakes breezed by the beams and girders within the dark tunnel and crossed in front of the glowing yellow lights that were mounted above; which, happened to be rather dim and sparse, and she thought that the lights were particularly unhelpful as she navigated. But, the light of the fading day, at the exit point — out the opposite end — was a much better guide. She sped onwards. There were three tunnels in succession, she recalled, from previous road trips to this cabin. 'We’re almost there,' she whispered. And at that very moment, the radio went static in the tunnel.
Karen, seated in the passenger seat, had overheard her. She turned to Lori and smiled. “Yes, calm down, we're only about an hour or so away,” and then went back to texting on her phone. Krista was doing the same in the rear seating. For the third time this week, it was snowing. But, tonight they were getting a particularly large dump of it; albeit, perfect for skiing if not for driving on. Many of the roads to get to the cabin were marked red, for caution, on the navigation system, and Charlie would be taking the more dangerous southern pass to meet them. But, even so, it would be a shorter distance to reach the cabin. 'Charlie always came, every year. He never skipped a beat,' Lori thought. 'We brought all this food with us, so he’d better be there.' When the signal to the radio antenna returned, they all fell into singing a country song, in unison.
Charlie was at the gas station. He’d finished his shift and signed off on the mobile phone whilst he pulled into a pump to fill his tank. Last year he had driven up to the cabin with the company four-by-four in similar conditions. It had bigger tires and better traction, especially when the conditions were slick and treacherous. Not to mention, it had extra room in the back camper shell, so he wouldn’t need to worry about getting the seats wet with his winter gear after the fun and games ended this weekend. And with the way the weather was turning, the truck would simply be a safer bet. But, with all the other cars and the plows driving on the roads throughout the evening, he figured that he’d manage all right with the Bimmer. Of course, he'd also reckoned, that, on the steeper roads nearer to the ski hill, he might run into a bit of trouble; for, it was still a rear-wheel drive, even with the winters on.
He had been pressing the trigger for the gas nozzle in his hand when he heard it click. The tank was full, but Charlie wanted to be sure the filler neck got a little extra; this way he might not have to make any additional fuel stops along the way; for he planned to arrive at the cabin before everyone sat down for dinner. He had been looking forward to this day for about a month now, and the excitement was getting the better of him. He pressed down the lever again until he heard the second click; and, sure enough, it came abruptly. Now the tank was full to the brim. He returned the nozzle to the pump and walked over to the station attendant, to pay.
Despite the weather, he was going with the Bimmer. It was mostly because the company he worked for had the GPS tracking system on the truck, and he wasn’t about to risk yet another phone call from the boss to lecture him about driving out-of-province. His boss would know about the weekend trip, surely. His boss, Carl, was the closest thing to the axiom of a workaholic he’d ever laid eyes on. In fact, Carl had rung him, just last week, to nag — for driving five clicks over the speed limit on the number 2 highway. He never received any tickets though — Well, except for one. But as far as he was concerned, Carl could use a tissue for his issues. He smirked at the thought of telling him this openly. Apart from that one minor ticket, which he paid for out of his pocket, he had a clean slate. It happened to be photo radar from a distance which captured his plate number — he must’ve been on the GPS when that had happened, he thought. Placing the gas nozzle back, he tightened the cap and closed the cover. Then he walked over to the station and yanked open the glass door. The snow followed him in. He opened his wallet to pay and pulled out the company fuel card. 'The least they could do was cover the cost of the freedom molecules to get the heck out of this small town,' he mumbled. 'It's a good thing they don't take the fuel records to the grindstone, so they can sharpen them into daggers —'
“Just the gas?” The attendant had asked, through the plexiglass.
“Yes. Oh, hold on — and also this, he grabbed some chewing gum from the rack in front of him.” He laid it down with the barcode up for the attendant to scan.
“Is that everything for you today, sir?” the attendant replied.
“Yes. That’s everything now. Thank you,” he responded, cordially.
“Okay, you’re all set,” the attendant returned his card and gave a half-smile.
When he pulled the glass door of the station open again, the wind almost knocked him over. The ferocity of the blizzard was becoming quite evident. But, he walked back to the car and popped a stick of gum in his mouth whilst looking at the tires once more. He lifted the bottom of his right boot and set it atop the rear tire next to the fuel cover; then, he proceeded to give it a hard kick for assurance. ‘Like a rock; these tires will have to do,’ he muttered. ‘The tread is good too. Heck, with all my boarding gear in the trunk — together with a full tank — the Bimmer might just be heavy enough to bottom out the suspension. But, the extra weight should do, I’m certain of it. And if not, well, I brought along a tow rope and a retractable shovel... there’ll always be someone out there, even on the back roads,' he figured.
Still wearing his work coveralls from the day’s shift, he buttoned the front as high up as his collar; he could easily strip out of them when he arrived at the cabin. There wasn’t much time to spare now, and the coveralls kept him nice and warm as the temperature began to fall. A snowflake fell onto the hood of his car and it melted instantly. The engine was still warm from all the driving he'd done around the foothills of the mountains during his shift. He opened the car door and sat down. The steering wheel was slightly cold, but it would warm up in a minute. He started the car and turned the heating on high (with the warmth blowing at the windshield), and then proceeded to drive out of the station in the direction of the southern mountain pass.
“All right, out of the car, ladies, we’re here,” Lori signalled. Karen was the first to step out. She held open the door with her free hand as she clutched an empty coffee cup in the other… before taking the reins from Lori by stating that she’d check in at the main lodge to handle the paperwork. Shutting the passenger door, she walked off.
“Just like that, eh? Well, I suppose that leaves just the two of us, Krista.” “Shall we start unpacking? We’ve got a lot of work to do before the others start arriving. Oh good, look over there — It’s Ronnie at the far end of the parking lot — Look, near the other cabins. Do you see him?” she pointed.
“Yeah, I do. That's a good sign, I heard Ronnie took the southern pass too.” She opened the door and got out. When she stood up, she put a hand on the roof of the SUV, for support, before waving the opposite hand high in the air and bellowing, in Ronnie’s direction.
“Ahoy!” Came a distant reply. He had caught sight of them and nodded.
“Well, they’ve seen us,” Lori said, though she frowned slightly and added, “Who in gods name says, 'ahoy'? What a turd, it’s the middle of winter,” she laughed. “Hang on, mayyyybe... you can see if they’d lend us a hand with all this stuff in the trunk,” she beckoned to Krista.
“Yeah. Sure, why not, I’ll go…” she stopped in her tracks and laughed. “Well, they do have a giant pirate flag for a sun reflector,” she noted, and then went along on her way, in the direction of Ronnie's car.
It was well into the evening as Charlie sped up and over the foothills and penetrated the heart of the Rockies, with the snow hammering the windshield at hurricane wind speeds. ‘Well, they weren’t joking about a blizzard in the forecast,” he mumbled under his breath. He watched the speedometer with the amber lights in the instrument panel, and let off the accelerator so he fell under the speed limit as he approached a turn. It was precisely these hairpin turns that he had to watch out for; they slowed him down greatly. 'Steady as she goes,' he kept repeating to himself. He had seen a half-ton truck stuck in the ditch, about ten minutes back down the road. It didn’t surprise him. There was always a ‘snowflake’ that had come out on an easterly wind and got his ass handed to him. "Eastern drivers need a reality check. Look at all this pow though, there will be plenty more of it on the hill, he imagined — I can’t wait to ride it,” he smiled. The GPS indicated that he would arrive just a little after the dinner hour that went out in the email. He put firm hands on the steering wheel, and pushed the accelerator down again, whilst coming out of the bend.”
“Set it down, over there, Karen,” Lori said, politely, as she pointed her finger. She had seen Karen move the dish of pirogies (which had just finished boiling) to the far side of the table. It was where Lori happened to be watching the big grandfather clock in the living space a moment ago. 'It’s been ages since she’d seen a clock like that,' she thought. “Isn’t everything, like, digital these days?” she said openly to the guests at the table and looked over at it again. “I wonder who’s going to fix it when it needs servicing, it looks ancient,” she said. “What? The clock?” Karen replied. She had set the pirogies down in front of Ronnie, who promptly put a fork into one resting on the corner of the dish and managed a bite before she could stop him. She scowled at him instead, and said, “Don’t be a douchebag, we’re still waiting on Charlie,” then Karen said, "Clock's slay time, who cares?" Even as she set the table, with cutlery, Lori continued to wonder about the clock. It gave her the creeps.
Charlie was growing impatient at the GPS, which was mounted on the dash. He was going about half the speed limit behind a big John Deere plow with chain-linked tires, and it was setting him back. He’d be late for dinner, without a doubt, and there was no signal on this mountaintop. But, he was only about thirty minutes away now. 'C*rist, you’d think he’d move over just a smidgen more, so I could pass on his left,' he growled to himself. He was hungry and wanted some blueberry pirogies, and this John Deere plow was in the way of his dinner. He looked up the road a little further, and it narrowed to a single lane as it climbed even higher. There was a bank of snow that the plow was clearing away on his right. 'Well, I've got to pass him. I can’t trail behind until the next pullout lane, it’s now or never,' he thought. And he floored the accelerator until he felt the tires spin in the back.
“How is everything? Does it all taste good,” Karen was the first to inquire. For they’d all gone quiet, and the clanging of the cutlery was all you could hear. “It’s pretty darn good, let’s thank all the Karens out there — just this once I suppose,” snickered Ronnie. He was such a wisecrack, thought Lori. Karen promptly kicked him in the shinbone from under the table. When he jolted in his seat, Karen returned a smile. It amused Krista, who gave Karen a look of satisfaction — 'Three against one,' she thought. Lori, however, stared off from her plate (she’d nearly finished) and peered over at the grandfather clock yet again. It was nearly half past now. 'Poor Charley,' she wondered. 'No word or sign of him.' She got up and approached the big window in the kitchen from where she had a clear view of the parking lot. Her SUV was nearly buried in a mountain of snow, in just a few intervening hours. “Oh, how silly of me, you know what I forgot? — The bloody wine! It's in the car. How could I forget the wine? Hmm, no matter, we’ll get it tomorrow, after the ski day, and when the afternoon sun has done its job by melting some of the snow off it,” she turned back to the table as she spoke. But Krista had come up beside her and handed her an empty glass. "I got plenty we can both share," she said and began to fill the glass for her. As she was topping up the glass, a beam of light in the distance suddenly caught her eye. "Oh, look over there now," Krista pointed, with a raised glass. “Look, I bet it's him.” A set of faint headlights were coming up the windy road. And everyone at the table got up to look. The lights grew brighter and brighter until the shadow behind the light source appeared at the corner of the furthest snow mound. “It’s got to be him, right?” Krista whispered. “Oh yeah, who else could it be? Listen, you can hear his deep muffler. It’s totally him," Lori agreed. The car crept its way up the ramp, in the dark, whilst snow burst from under the shadow of the car, until, at last, the black Bimmer emerged — like a hearse — and after a slow roll, it pulled up alongside the big window next to the cabin.
Just then a bird from the grandfather clock erupted from the trap door and chirruped a tune so loud that Krista dropped the bottle of wine on the window sill, and threw the contents of the wine glass — straight up in the air — whereupon, the wine spilled out over the three of them huddled together side by side. The wine stained their white sweaters the colour red. And there had been enough spillage to make the three of them look as though they had all but escaped a haunted cabin massacre. And Ronnie, who was still seated at the table, holding a large knife up to the casserole, burst into such a fit of laughter, that he could hardly contain himself from saying, in a pirate's voice, no less: "Arrr, you lose, ye wenches," whilst he shook the knife emphatically.
Charlie stopped the car outside the big window of the cabin, at long last. Upon turning his head to rummage through the back seat and fetch a bottle of champagne, along with a ginormous box of fireworks (which he had been saving especially for this weekend), he happened to peer through the large unobstructed window above, just in time to witness sheer mayhem; and, what appeared to him to be a pack of wild barbarians on some kind of rampage. With eyes wide open and jaw dropped, he swiftly folded himself back into the front seat and sped off down the ramp from whence he'd come.